The adventures of activist inquiry

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The adventures of activist inquiry[1]

Introduction

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Since the 2008 crisis, we have been witnessing a return to power of the notion of “capitalism” on the intellectual scene and in public debate, which raises at least two questions: what exactly should we understand by “capitalism”? And what justifies the critique of it? From a Marxian perspective, the answer to the first question hardly appears problematic, even if it can be the object of divergent developments. By “capitalism,” we indeed understand a mode of production founded on the generalization of market exchange, the exploitation of a “free” labor power and the indefinite accumulation of surplus-value. The answer to the second question is, by contrast, less evident, even if this might only be because in Capital one finds different models for the critique of capitalism.

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In the first two sections of the book, Marx explains that market exchange generates socially necessary illusions that impose anonymous social roles onto individuals. [2]  Here, we are particularly thinking about the famous...[2] From reading the first two hundred pages of Capital, one therefore draws the impression that capitalism must be critiqued because it constitutes an opaque system, moved by an uncontrollable tendency to enlarge the base of its reproduction.

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Yet, such a critique, led from the objective point of view of capital, would remain formal if it was not completed by a description, led from the subjective point of work, of labor, of the concrete effects of capitalist accumulation on the social experience of those who guarantee its continuity. As soon as one leaves the sphere of market circulation to descend into the “hidden abode of production,” [3]  Ibid., p. 297.[3] capital indeed no longer appears as an “automatic subject,” [4]  Ibid., p. 255.[4] but rather as a form of command over work that sets off conflicts bearing on the time and the organization of the activity that oppose different strategies for the extraction of surplus-value and the refusal of exploitation and that results in physical and moral debasement, which Marx, following factory inspectors, patiently supplies the description of. [5]  This time, we are thinking about chapters X (“The Working...[5] In this second perspective, capitalism must no longer be criticized because it constitutes an irrational and self-sustaining system, but because it produces negative effects on the physical, mental and social lives of subjectivities.

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The objective of this article is to develop this second critical model – that one could qualify as a “critique through effects” – by showing that in the practice of activist inquiry, it has received a theoretical support and a political continuation. Starting from the pioneering developments of the young Engels, we will uphold the thesis according to which activist inquiry allows for the articulation of knowledge of social relations and the organization of practices aiming to achieve this transformation. For, as we will attempt to then show by looking over the sequence of developments ranging from those carried out by Socialisme ou Babarie in France to those of Quaderni rossi and later of Classe operaia in Italy, it is thus the question of organization that provides activist inquiry with its raison d’être and that determines its different modalities.

Describe and interrogate: the prehistory of activist inquiry

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We most often trace the genealogy of activist inquiries back to the “worker’s inquiry” written by Marx in 1880 for the Revue socialiste. [6]  See the overview drawn up by Asad Haider and Salar...[6] However, this inquiry itself relies on two principles pronounced as early as 1845 by Engels: the epistemological principle according to which, “a knowledge of proletarian conditions is absolutely necessary to provide solid ground for socialist theories” and the political principle that the proletariat is “perfectly right in expecting no support whatever from [the bourgeoisie].” [7]  Friedrich Engels. The Condition of the Working Class...[7] It is therefore back to the young Engel’s Condition of the Working Class in England that we must trace the history of activist inquiry, which consequently appears as being constitutive of marxism considered as a politics of auto-emancipation built up against a critique of subjectively experienced effects of the economic organization of societies.

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In his 1845 text, Engels sets up a vast picture of the economically-centered consequences that the workers’ socio-psychological “factory” of experience then gains: weakness of salaries, intensity and time of exploitation, deskilling and monotony of the tasks undertaken, factory despotism, chronic underfeeding, inhumane hygienic and sanitary conditions, as much in places of work as in neighborhoods and this, not only for men but also for women and children. This summary of pathologies of worker life fulfills, in the first place, a critical function: it is a question of neutralizing all of the ideological justifications of emerging capitalism through the bringing to light of negative experiences that the scientific or political discourses carried on by the dominant classes tend either to make invisible or to undercut. [8]  Ibid., p. 35-36. One could thus maintain that in Engels...[8] But it also fulfills a political function, since, for Engels, describing working conditions and the inhuman life of workers is a way of not enclosing them into a position of powerless victims. It is, on the contrary, a way of supporting their formation as an antagonistic class through the revelation of the unitary nature of their situation.

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The process of social and economic standardization determined by the concentration and the centralization of capital in the factory must indeed correspond to a political process of unification of the working class, capable of surpassing the different divisions that the division of labor and national borders draw within the class. And this process of unification of the class is in turn identified by Engels as a process of awareness-raising of the community regarding the fate in which the workers are engaged. On the one hand, therefore, the Engelsian inquiry is supposed to reveal a unity of class that is already given. But, on the other hand, the objectification of the proletarian condition in the textual space of the inquiry anticipates the formation of the political subject that it aims to bring into existence. The Engelsian inquiry thus constitutes the answer to an absent or implicit question that his successors will strive to make explicit: how can the description of a situation participate in the production of a subjectivity capable of transforming it?

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We can interpret the form that Marx gives to his “worker’s inquiry” in 1880 as an attempt at resolving this problem. The sympathetic description of worker experience there makes way for a questionnaire organized in four parts, over the course of which one moves from very specific questions related to the place and kind of work (I), to hours, rhythms, costs of living (II), to salaries and relationships with bosses (III), ending up with broader questions having to do with the State, with worker organizations and with forms of struggle (IV). [9]  See Karl Marx, “Enquête ouvrière” in Travailler, N°....[9] Through its very form and its scansion, this questionnaire thus attests to a will for direct implication of workers in the production of a critical knowledge that does not only bear on labor and on its organization, but also on capitalist society as a whole. A critical knowledge which, for Marx, as for the editors of the Revue socialiste, constitutes an essential moment of the constitution of the working class into an organized political subject.

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In this regard, we must recall that starting in 1867 Marx addresses a letter to the International Association of Workers in which he calls for the development of “a statistical inquiry on the situation of the working classes in all countries, conducted by the workers themselves.” Yet, the function of such an inquiry would not only be to “know the content based upon which one acts” and to make the workers realize their ability to “take their fate into their own hands,” according to the epistemo-political demand of the young Engels, it would also be to reach “an international coordination of efforts” in view of the constitution of the proletariat as a political subject. Each locality in which the Association is established would thus have to launch the inquiry, and make the results reach the General Council, which would in turn write a general report that it would finally redistribute to the workers of Europe and of the United States. [10]  Karl Marx, “Letter to the International Workingmen’s...[10]

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From 1845 to 1880, the conception of inquiry promoted by Engels and Marx is thus revealed as experiencing two problems – the problem of a productive description of the effects of political subjectification and the problem of a coordination of scattered centers of struggle – to which the heterodox Marxism of the 20th century must attempt to bring answers that we must presently answer.

Worker narrative and avant-garde network: the contribution of Socialisme ou Barbarie

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It is without a doubt in the editorial of issue 11 of Socialism ou Barbarie, published in 1952 by Claude Lefort under the title “The Proletarian Experience” that these two problems find their most original re-orchestration. [11]  Claude Lefort, “L’expérience prolétarienne” in Éléments...[11] There, Lefort sets out from the thesis that the proletariat sets itself apart from the bourgeoisie not only through the position that it occupies in the relations of production, but also, and more fundamentally, by the fact that it does not coincide with this position. Admittedly, the individual member of the proletariat can be satisfied with his situation and feed himself with hopes other than to persist there or to improve his situation. But the deeper interest of workers as a class is to free themselves from the social and economic conditions that condemn them to exploitation, that is, to aim for “the abolition of the proletarian condition.” [12]  C. Lefort, “L’expérience prolétarienne,” art. cit.,...[12] The result of this is that one can only know the proletarian experience from within it, by sharing in the interest in emancipation that defines it as “radical originality.” [13]  Ibid., p. 50.[13] Yet, neither the description of the worker’s condition as Engels practices it, nor the dissemination of questionnaires as Marx envisions it, truly allows, according to Lefort, for the development of this immanent knowledge of the proletarian experience. Whatever the intentions that motivate it might be, the former indeed still runs the risk of sinking into an objectifying sociology of poverty. As for the latter, it can prove “to be an embarrassment for the subject being examined, to determine an artificial response, in any case to imprint a character onto its content that it would not have otherwise had.” [14]  Ibid., p. 58.[14] This is why Lefort concludes his editorial with a call for the collection of narratives written in the first person by workers, based on the model of “The American Worker” by Paul Romano whose testimony of the experience of work and of struggles in Detroit automobile factories is translated and published in the first issues of Socialisme ou Barbarie. [15]  Paul Romano, “L’ouvrier américain” in Socialisme ou...[15]

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The question must then be posed of knowing to whom, precisely, these narratives are being addressed. They are addressed to the activists organized in “Socialism or Barbarism,” certainly, who will there find the means to put the self-management line that is defended in the pages of the journal to the test of experience. But, above all, they are addressed to workers themselves, who will there find the opportunity to “think about their experience.” [16]  C.Lefort, “L’expérience prolétarienne,” art. cit.,...[16] Yet, to think about an experience, this is not simply to draw up the list of the different sequences from which it is composed (which work situation, which relationship with colleagues, which conflict with management), it is to take ownership of this experience, moving from a state in which it is more or less passively lived toward a state in which it is actively taken hold of as having an expressible meaning that is worthy of being communicated. It is therefore to constitute oneself as a subject of discourse and of action, such that the value of worker narratives does not care solely about what is being pronounced, but also cares about the processes of subjectification to which they attest and which they make possible.

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Lefort then specifies that if this process is to prove itself to be politically productive, then two conditions must however be fulfilled. On the one hand, one must compare the many narratives, so as to extract the universally shared social experience that they were never any more than partially aware of from individual accounts. [17]  Ibid., p. 53-54.[17] On the other hand, one must ensure the circulation of these narratives among different circles of workers, so as to engage in a dynamic of collective “clarification” of proletarian experience that would uphold its “maturation.” [18]  Ibid., p. 54.[18] These conditions then define the function that an activist group such as “Socialism or Barbarism” must fulfill. For Lefort, the role of such a group is indeed not to import from the outside a political leadership with which the spontaneous struggles of workers must align itself, but rather to participate in making the political content of this experience explicit and to ensure what Marx called the “coordination” between these struggles. This is why Lefort ultimately calls for the creation of an “avant-garde network” [19]  C. Lefort, “Prolétariat et organisation” in Éléments...[19] comprised of intellectuals and enterprising activists, who, through the dissemination of a newspaper, the writing of a newsletter and the conducting of “inquiries into the life and work experience” [20]  Ibid., p. 120.[20] of workers, would progressively lead to the emergence of a transversal “collectivity of revolutionaries” [21]  C. Lefort, “Le prolétariat et sa direction” in Éléments...[21] from different sectors of the economy.

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Yet, it is precisely this “avant-garde network” project that must have provoked the break-up within “Socialism or Barbarism.” In order to follow Cornélius Castoriadis, who was then an activist for the transformation of the group into a political party structured by a program, formal statues of membership and base cells electing leadership, the Lefortian project would indeed need to rely on two equally problematic presuppositions: the “economicist” presupposition according to which the politics of emancipation would be solely delimited by the sphere of work, and the “spontaneist” presupposition according to which the clarification of proletarian experience would be enough to actualize revolutionary potential. [22]  We are here summarizing in broad strokes the arguments...[22] Against the first presupposition, he thus recalls that the individual member of the proletariat is not just a worker, but also a “consumer, elector, renter, mobilizable second class, parent of students, reader of newspapers, spectator of cinema, etc.” [23]  Ibid., p. 67.[23] Yet, it is the totality of this social experience that, for him, constitutes the milieu of politicization of workers. In contrast, by reducing politics to the sphere of production, Lefort would be confining the class struggle into the enclosed space of the factory and would be renouncing in advance the socialist project of self-governing of all social practices by the “associated producers.” [24]  Ibid., p. 71.[24]

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Against what he considers the second underlying presupposition of the “avant-garde network” envisioned by Lefort, Castoriadis goes on to highlight that proletarian experience does not unilaterally tend toward emancipation. It instead appears as being motivated by contradictory tendencies – alienation and its refusal, confidence in the communist party and the rejection of its syndicalist bureaucracies, racism against immigrant workers and proletarian internationalism – between which one must settle. When all is said and done, Castoriadis notes, that is where the practice of activist inquiry is justified. If this has to be something other than scholarly objectification of the worker’s condition, if it must truly participate in a process of political subjectification, then it necessarily entails a stance with regard to proletarian experience. Yet, the set of principles allowing to decide which of the tendencies immanent to this experience must prevail over the others define something like a political line. And the activists that strive to apply this line form, for their part, something like a party. Castoriadis concludes that if Lefort were coherent with himself, then he should therefore recognize that the “avant-garde network” that he calls upon for his resolution is not the opposite of the party-form, but rather a renewed form of the party. [25]  Ibid., p. 64-65.[25]

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We had to remind ourselves of these aspects of the discussion because they raise two decisive problems for our intentions. The first problem is that of the role attributed to inquiry: is this not just an instrument in the service of the organization of the proletariat, or else does it exhaust the set of functions that a political organization can pretend to fulfill? The second problem is that of the grounds that the inquiry must invest in, and moving forward, the subjectivities with which it must be led: can it be confined solely to sites of production or else must it be extended to other spheres of society? These two problems must have inspired the adventures of workerism, a heterodox current of Italian Marxism that strove to theorize and to organize the new forms of worker radicalness set off by the transformations of capitalism in the sixties and seventies. [26]  For a general presentation of workerism, see Steve...[26]

From political inquiry to co-research: the workerist trajectory

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At the risk of being schematic, we could make the first set of branches of the two alternatives that we have just sketched (inquiry is an instrument of organization and it takes place entirely in the walls of the factory) correspond with the positions defended by Raniero Panziere and his partisans within the Quaderni rossi (1961-1966). The second set of branches of these two alternatives (inquiry is organization in action and it must multiply the grounds of its intervention) define, for their part, the positioning defended by Romano Alquati within Classe operaia (1964-1966), which had to have irrigated the practice of extra-parliamentary groups from the “long Italian May” up until their dissolution in what was called “the Zone of autonomy.” [27]  On this history, one can read Nanni Balestrini and...[27] It is in “Socialist uses of workers’ inquiry” – an article published posthumously in the fifth delivery of the Quaderni rossi – that Panzieri makes his conception of inquiry explicit. [28]  Raniero Panzieri, “Uso socialista dell’inchiesta operaia,”...[28] Even the title of this article is significant. It attests to the fact that it is not the method of inquiry, but its usage, in other words the hypotheses that move it and the objectives that it pursues, that determine its political nature. The form of inquiry, Panzieri indeed explains, has nothing in itself that is specifically “socialist”: it is a question of the method of directed interview as it was developed by industrial sociology. This direct borrowing of sociological methods could be surprising, especially when compared with the distrust that an author like Lefort evinces with regard to all pretension to scientific objectification of proletarian experience. In Panzieri it is, however, founded on a historical diagnostic in light of which the “neocapitalism” of the sixties no longer appears as this competitive economy that classical or neoclassical political economy theorized, but as a planned economy that has been submitted to the whole of social institutions. This planning turn of capitalism, which of course recalls the thesis of “bureaucratic capitalism” defended in the pages of Socialisme ou Barbarie, is at first manifest in the great Fordist factories where it takes the form of a rationalization of tasks and of an automatization of the process of production that aims to domesticate worker insubordination. And it is then expressed in different phenomena (monopoly formation, setting up a broad system of credit, unemployment management, integration of worker parties into the State apparatus) that attest to a tendency of capital to take charge of its reproduction on the scale of the entire society. [29]  See R. Panzieri, “Plus-value et planification : Notes...[29] It is precisely this becoming-society of capital that justifies the fact of erecting it as an object of sociological study.

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Yet, Panzieri reasons, if all of society will from this point forward be organized so as to ensure the continuity of the process of valorization, then the struggles that break out in factories offer a properly revolutionary potential for breaking up the social totality. [30]  R. Panzieri, “Plus-value et planification: Notes de...[30] They attest, in any case, to the fact that the proletariat is never only labor power, that is, human merchandise integrated into capitalist development, but always also a working class, that is, a political subject capable of interrupting this development. From this point on it is a hypothesis of a duality immanent to the proletariat that must at once verify and provoke inquiry, especially when it is led “in the heat of the moment,” that is, in the situation of a political boiling point. On the one hand, the interviews conducted with workers in the struggle did make it possible to measure the degree of consciousness that they have acquired and the difference separating their status as producer from their political power. On the other hand, they represent a factor of intensification of this difference and of the reinforcement of institutions through which it is organized. [31]  R. Panzieri, “Conception socialiste de l’enquête ouvrière,”...[31] Forcing syndicalist leadership to recognize the combativeness of their bases by supplying the results of inquiries conducted “in the heat of the moment” is, ultimately, Panzieri and his partisans’ objective within the Quaderni rossi. But this is also the motive for the break with Mario Tronti, Romano Alquati and Antonio Negri, who leave the journal in 1964 to found Classe operaia. [32]  For a documented synthesis of this sequence, see Giueseppe...[32]

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A comparison of the material formats of these two journals already allows their difference in positioning to show through. Where Quaderni rossi is published as a newspaper of analysis of neo-capitalist transformations, Classe operaia, in contrast, is presented, as its subtitle says, as a “monthly of workers in struggle,” aiming to establish an autonomous political line, or even a political line that is opposed to the one recommended by the parties and unions. For it is no longer a question, for Tronti and his comrades, of pushing these entities toward a strategic reform, but one of organizing the “non-collaboration” of workers with the institutions that pretend to represent them. This is why, where Panzieri sought to articulate social theory with activist practice through inquiry, the members of Classe operaia intend, for their part, to fuse these two moments into one process of “co-research” (conricerca).

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Developed by Alquati starting in 1961, this concept indicates more of a project of immediate awareness of proletarian experience or even of direct implication of workers in the production of a knowledge bearing on the factory and on society. [33]  For the original formulation of the concept of “co-research,”...[33] From an epistemological point of view, co-research relies above all on a form of “methodological collectivism,” [34]  Romano Alquati, Camminando per realizzare un sogno...[34] that is, on a conviction that considers that awareness of the transformations of capitalism can only be the product of a permanent back and forth between the initiators of the inquiry and those who participate in it. Alquati admittedly does not ignore that, in a class society, the time that can be devoted to study and the analytic capacities that can be acquired in this way are unequally distributed. But he makes the wager that this informal awareness mobilized by workers in production and the formalized doctrines of activist-theorists can and must combine into a properly unprecedented form of knowledge. Since, from a political point of view, this form of knowledge now has no vocation to be exhibited in books: it is nothing other than the process of self-reflection of worker antagonism on its causes, its forms, its limits and its objectives. Extending the aspects of the discussion put forward by Lefort in his debate with Castoriadis, Alquatian co-research is therefore neither the complement nor the condition of organized politics: it is the organization conceived of as a dynamic unity of theory and of practice and as a tendency toward surpassing all difference between inquirers and inquired – a surpassing that is then founded on spatiotemporal coordinates that are quite different from those are defined by inquiry as Panzieri envisioned it.

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Alquatian co-research is indeed not an occasional intervention in this or that sector of production. It is a long-term process, composed of several cycles of annual inquiries: its “unfinished, permanent and infinite processality” can spread out over the length of around fifteen years. After having identified a “barycentric node,” the course of co-research is actually spread out through preliminary, educative and self-educative sub-inquiries. The stakes of each cycle of annual inquiries is then to verify the starting hypotheses, which, once confirmed or redefined, become the presuppositions of a new cycle, and so on and so forth, in a sort of “un-extinguished, constitutive and inventive projectuality” that remains by definition incomplete. [35]  Ibid., p. 38.[35] The long duration of co-research is itself based upon the recognition of the fact that, as Marx noted, “the present society is no solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and constantly engaged in a process of change.” [36]  K. Marx, Capital, Volume I, op. cit., p. 93.[36] Yet, among the mutations that this organism has known, one must especially note the displacing of spaces flooded by capitalist production. Beginning in the seventies, the great industry that had until then comprised the privileged grounds of inquiry and of co-research actually loses its centrality in Western metropoles. A growing portion of labor power is now employed in the tertiary sector and evolves at the borders of corporations and of universities. It is the emergence of “the social worker,” a figure of worker subjectivity that is more qualified but also more scattered, and especially more at risk than “the mass worker” was, concentrated in industrial fortresses. [37]  See Antonio Negri, Dall’operaio massa all’operaio sociale....[37] It is then no longer sufficient to point out, as Panzieri did, that the factory tends to transform society in its image. One must go so far as to point out that society literally becomes a factory, or even that it restructures itself in a way that is “neo-modern, ultra-industrial and ultra-fordist.” [38]  It is a question of a leitmotiv of the great sociological...[38] For Alquati, the tendency toward disappearance of great industry is indeed only the other side of rampant industrialization of a growing number of activities, and, moving forward, of the multiplication of spheres of social life affected by exploitation. Institutions invested in the reproduction of labor power (the home, the university, hospitals) as economic sectors toward which the social worker flocks (the service industry, communication, cultural production) then represent just as many new grounds for co-research to flood, just as many sites of latent conflictuality on which to establish long-term activist presence. For it is in “the everyday of knowledge and experience of effective situations of [also subjective] movements of class” [39]  R. Alquati, Camminando per realizzare un sogno comune,...[39] that this process of collective subjectification that is co-research takes shape.

Final considerations

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We began this article by putting forward the thesis that activist inquiry constitutes the political form of a critique of capitalism led from the point of view of its effects on the social experience of worker subjectivity. At the end of a path that will have brought us from the young Engels to Alquati by way of “Socialism or Barbarism,” it seems possible for us to explain this thesis through two points.

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The first point concerns the general relationship between social experience and political action. On the one hand, all of the authors that we have examined consider inquiry as the best way of articulating these two planes. But on the other hand, they set themselves apart from each other through the way in which they consider the modalities of this juncture. In the works of Engels and Castoriadis, worker inquiry thus appears as a necessary condition for the construction of a political organization geared toward the radical transformation of society. In the works of Marx and Panzieri, it appears, by contrast, as a means of reinforcing and bringing about the evolution of the institutions of the worker movement. In the works of Lefort and Alquati, it finally appears as being itself a form of organization, that is, of the radicalization of worker insubordination, of the coordination of conflicts through which it expresses itself and the clarification of their objectives. But, in every instance, inquiry responds to the conviction that it is in the density of social experience, in the forms of sociability within which it is established as well as in the affects, representations and common interests that it determines, that the politics of emancipation takes root. From this perspective, it will appear confusing that Lefort and Castoriadis, admittedly through different modalities, starting in the eighties, figured among the principal theorists of the irreducibility of politics to the social.

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This will perhaps be a little bit clearer if one notes – and this is the second point on which we wanted to insist in order to finish – that inquiry never simply aims to summarize a form of worker life considered as given, but instead aims to actualize its more or less latent political potential. In this regard, the tendencies of two models of actualizing this potential can be distinguished from other developments that we have looked at: a model of awareness-raising, that would go from Engels to Panzieri, and a model of subjectification that would go from Lefort to Alquati. In the first case, the role of inquiry is principally to make workers aware of the strength that their numbers give them and the strategic position that they occupy in the material reproduction of society. One then considers that the dissolution of forms of ignorance of this force requires the intervention of intellectuals and activists that are more or less exterior to the class and that it is enough to set antagonistic power free. In the second case, the role of inquiry is, by contrast, to fuel the process of reciprocal transformation of worker subjectivity as well as intellectual and activist subjectivity. It is then a question of extricating oneself from habit and from behavior that has been socially prescribed by the division of labor and in this way to carry out what Marx called “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing.” [40]  K. Marx, “Theses on Feurbach” trans. W. Lough in Marx/Engels...[40] Paradoxically, it is probably the radicalization of this perspective, for which it is through the process of rising against what the social world makes of us that we become able to transform it, that ultimately led Lefort and Castoriadis to disconnect the politics of emancipation from the experience of exploitation. We hope however to have shown that this disconnection is neither the only nor the best path opened by the discussions led in Socialisme ou Barbarie.

Notes

[1] This article is a completely reworked version of a forthcoming text with the title “Inquiry: Between Critique and Politics” in South Atlantic Quarterly. Duke University Press. Volume 118/Issue 2. 2019.

[2] Here, we are particularly thinking about the famous concluding subsection of chapter I of Capital devoted to “The Fetishism of Commodities,” about chapter II devoted to “the process of exchange” and to part II devoted to the “transformation of money into capital.” See Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I. Trans. Ben Fowkes, New York, Penguin.

[3] Ibid., p. 297.

[4] Ibid., p. 255.

[5] This time, we are thinking about chapters X (“The Working Day”), XV (“Machinery and Large-Scale Industry”) and XXV (“The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation”) of Book I of Capital.

[6] See the overview drawn up by Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi, “Workers’ Inquiry: A Genealogy” in Viewpoint Magazine, available online at https://www.viewpointmag.com/2013/09/27/workersinquiry-a-genealogy/

[7] Friedrich Engels. The Condition of the Working Class in England. Ed.. Victor Kiernan, New York, Penguin, 2009, p. 34, 32.

[8] Ibid., p. 35-36. One could thus maintain that in Engels one finds one of the first forms of “critique through recognition” thematized by Axel Honneth. See “La critique comme ‘mise à jour’. La Dialectique de la raison et les controverses actuelles sur la critique sociale” in La Société du mépris, trans. A. Dupeyrix, P. Rusch and O. Voirol, Paris, Éditions de La Découverte, 2008.

[9] See Karl Marx, “Enquête ouvrière” in Travailler, N°. 12, 2004, p. 21-28.

[10] Karl Marx, “Letter to the International Workingmen’s Association” from 20 February 1867.

[11] Claude Lefort, “L’expérience prolétarienne” in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, Genève, Éditions Droz, 1971, p. 30-58. For a synthetic presentation of the theoretical and political work led within Socialisme ou Barbarie, see Marcel van der Linden, “‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’: A French Revolutionary Group (1949-1965)” in Left History, 1997, 5.1, p. 7-37.

[12] C. Lefort, “L’expérience prolétarienne,” art. cit., p. 44.

[13] Ibid., p. 50.

[14] Ibid., p. 58.

[15] Paul Romano, “L’ouvrier américain” in Socialisme ou Barbarie, N°. 1-6, 1949-1950.

[16] C.Lefort, “L’expérience prolétarienne,” art. cit., p. 58.

[17] Ibid., p. 53-54.

[18] Ibid., p. 54.

[19] C. Lefort, “Prolétariat et organisation” in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, op. cit., p. 119.

[20] Ibid., p. 120.

[21] C. Lefort, “Le prolétariat et sa direction” in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, op. cit., p. 38.

[22] We are here summarizing in broad strokes the arguments put forward by Castoriadis in “Prolétariat et organisation” in Socialisme ou Barbarie, N°. 28, 1958, p. 59-61.

[23] Ibid., p. 67.

[24] Ibid., p. 71.

[25] Ibid., p. 64-65.

[26] For a general presentation of workerism, see Steve Wright, Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Maxism, London, Pluto Press, 2002.

[27] On this history, one can read Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni, The Golden Horde: Revolutionary Italy, 1960-1977, trans. Richard Braude, Chicago, Seagull Books, 2020.

[28] Raniero Panzieri, “Uso socialista dell’inchiesta operaia,” Contribution to a seminar on the Quaderni Rossi about the worker inquiry held in September 1964. One can also find a French translation of this text with the title “Conception socialiste de l’enquête ouvrière” in “Quaderni Rossi”. Luttes ouvrières et capitalisme aujourd’hui, trans. N. Rouzet, Paris, Éditions Maspero, 1968, p. 109-116.

[29] See R. Panzieri, “Plus-value et planification : Notes de lecture en marges du Capital” in “Quaderni rossi”, op. cit., p. 81-108. as well as Cornélius Castoriadis, “Les rapports de production en Russie” in La Société bureaucratique, volume I, Paris, UGE 10/18, 1973, p. 205-282.

[30] R. Panzieri, “Plus-value et planification: Notes de lecture en marges du Capital,” art. cit., p. 92-93.

[31] R. Panzieri, “Conception socialiste de l’enquête ouvrière,” op. cit., p. 114-115.

[32] For a documented synthesis of this sequence, see Giueseppe Trotta and Fabio Milana (directors), L’operaismo degli anni Sessanta. Da “Quaderni rossi” a “Classe operaia”, Rome, Derive Approdi, 2008.

[33] For the original formulation of the concept of “co-research,” see Romano Alquati, “Relazione sulle ‘forze nuove’” in Sulla Fiat e altri scritti, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1975, p. 27-53. For a general presentation of Alquati’s work, still mostly unknown in France, see Gianluca Pitavino, “Romano Alquati : de l’opéraïsme aux écrits inédits des années quatre-vingt-dix,” in Période, available online at http://revueperiode.net/romano-alquati-de-loperaisme-aux-ecrits-inedits-des-annees-1990/#identifier_7_5925

[34] Romano Alquati, Camminando per realizzare un sogno comune, Turin, Velleità alternative, 1994, p. 135.

[35] Ibid., p. 38.

[36] K. Marx, Capital, Volume I, op. cit., p. 93.

[37] See Antonio Negri, Dall’operaio massa all’operaio sociale. Intervista sull’operaismo, Verone, Ombre Corte, 2007; Romano Alquati, “L’università e la formazione. L’incorporamento del sapere sociale nel lavoro vivo” in Aut-Aut, N°. 154, 1976.

[38] It is a question of a leitmotiv of the great sociological model on which Alquati worked beginning in the eighties. See Romano Alquati, Dispense di Sociologia industriale. Volume 3, Books 1 and 2, Turin, Il Segnalibro, 1989.

[39] R. Alquati, Camminando per realizzare un sogno comune, op. cit., p. 176.

[40] K. Marx, “Theses on Feurbach” trans. W. Lough in Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume One, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1969, p. 13.

Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Describe and interrogate: the prehistory of activist inquiry
  3. Worker narrative and avant-garde network: the contribution of Socialisme ou Barbarie
  4. From political inquiry to co-research: the workerist trajectory
  5. Final considerations